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Can corporate volunteering really advance the SDGs?

November 2015

The ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals in September was a pinnacle moment for the engagement of the private sector with the development community, writes Louise Erskine, head of Programmes and Research at Career Volunteer.

Extensive consultation with businesses at global and local levels in the run up to formalising the goals was, itself, indicative of the progress made since the inception of the MDGs in 2000. At that time, there were little soundings or structure around the role of the private sector in achieving the MDGs and the goals practically ignored the parallels between sustainable economic growth and businesses.

Attitudes and actions have evolved since the nascent stages of the MDGs: it is now widely recognised that the fundamental way to drive the SDGs is through integrative approaches that address systemic issues. The private sector is finally accepted as a pivotal actor and facilitator of change within these cohesive partnerships.

UN Global Compacts’ depiction of shared values highlights the synergies between the SDGs of inclusive growth, social equity and progress and environmental protection with long term business goals of revenue growth, resource productivity and risk management. Concurrently, the UN Development Programme highlight that inclusiveness, sustainability and partnering are the cornerstones of private sector engagement. 

This is where corporate volunteering is key. Corporate volunteers have become somewhat superfluous to needs in recent times - delivering teams to build wells and paint schools whilst snapping up a photo opp have, sadly, become entrenched in the global development arena. Building capacity through grassroots development was misconstrued as a one-way flow of learning and transference. 

Yet the dependency debate has long since died and the time has come to address actual need and a shift away from normative ad hoc, unskilled transference of labour in a unilateral system. Acceptance that shared values don’t necessitate shared motivations is creating a landscape for corporate volunteers to impact on many of the key SDG fields, such as financial inclusion, governance frameworks, access to technology and resource sustainability. 

Deploying volunteers to learn about these aspects, particularly around innovation and industrialisation, helps to foster technological advancements as well as research and development. Businesses that are engaging in such a way are discovering research into new markets, opportunities for risk management, innovations with their products and services and, subsequently, increased confidence and loyalty amongst their customers and shareholders. 

The SDGs have inadvertently become a nexus to stimulate, inform and inspire the private sector to harness their human resources and expertise. The concept of reciprocal benefits is no longer as indecorous as it once was and, together, this paves the way for a new movement of corporate volunteers; one based on a mutual appreciation and understanding that will radically alter corporate engagement in developing and newly industrialised countries. Corporate skilled volunteering has the propensity to drive a transformative agenda in the post 2015 era. ‘Should we’ is no longer the nuanced question: ‘how do we’ is the new norm.


Career Volunteer Extensive | UK & NI Ireland | Volunteering


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